Drink Tank

Striving for excellence without alcohol

I stopped drinking alcohol in January this year after 43 years of consumption, beginning at the age of 17 when the legal drinking age in Queensland was 21. It was my first time away from home and a job that required mixing with businessmen in the Flamingo Bar of a north Queensland hotel after work, drinking beer, but I was soon introduced to scotch chasers. It didn’t take long for me to be hooked.

I only drank a few glasses of wine most nights for most of the last fifteen years in which I wanted to quit, but even that proved a nuisance because I’d always prided myself in staying fit. This is the only body I’ve got, no spare one hanging up in the closet. However, two things came together to effect my change of habit. One, I work in an Aboriginal community in central Australia and two, I became a private pilot.

For the best part of five years in this place, I have watched alcoholism destroying the lives of my Aboriginal friends and their families, while the kids look on. Take-away alcohol is available seven days a week in the NT. That sends a poor message across generations.

One day, when flying, even though I hadn’t touched alcohol by law for eight hours ‘from bottle to throttle,’ I noticed that my reaction to a minor control adjustment was foggy. Alcohol is a very sneaky drug. Just think of the car accidents over the past sixty years since critical speed became possible. How many dead? It’s no wonder CASA doesn’t let pilots touch a drop for eight hours prior to commanding an aircraft and even that’s a bare minimum as I proved to myself.

I also didn’t like telling my Aboriginal friends to give up the grog when I was a hypocrite. So the two things came together and I walked away from the bar. I haven’t looked back. I lost about 4kgs in the first month and have saved a lot of money, but the most interesting thing is that I no longer have a default stress position. I choose not to medicate stress with alcohol, so I’m learning to deal with it upfront. This is confidence building and liberating.

Nonetheless, I was surprised that I had considerable suppressed anger which revealed itself now that alcohol was no longer my little friend. I learnt that a wise person stills their anger and I’m able to practice that without alcoholic stress.

I write letters to the papers and government ministers and come face to face with ideology, but as we’ve seen with Climate Change – scientific evidence is for and against. Critics of evidence-based alcohol policy, often say that statistics can be interpreted either/or. In our time, science is the official meta-narrative and indeed open to interpretation, but it’s still capable of new revelation, eg DNA. More will be revealed about alcohol and its effect on human behavior as is the case with marijuana.

I suppose my ideology is that you can live a better life without alcohol, but it took me 43 years to do it.  Wisdom in hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing, but I am not so stressed and more in control of my life.  If I’d had this advice much earlier in life, or if someone had cared enough to tell me what I was doing, I may have given it away long ago, but most of those around me at the time were addicted to alcohol too.

I realize that the alcohol industry is powerful, but things can change as universal floor price legislation is coming. Ideologies change too, sometimes through tragedy and I see that in renal dialysis stats, but the best way, I believe, is to recognize that a lot more is possible without judgment being clouded by alcohol.

I also wish to state that my Christian faith had no small part to play in achieving sobriety and standing strong against peer group pressure, which plays a large part in affirming the Aussie drinking culture, currently spiraling out of control, aided  by alcohol product advertising and sport sponsorship.

Illustration: No Grog – A child’s plea found in an Aboriginal drinking camp near the Stuart Highway, north of Alice Springs where I work.

Russell Guy

Russell is a writer whose story 'What's Rangoon to You is Grafton to Me', originally appeared in Tracks Surfing Magazine (July, 1978). It was adapted as a radio play, narrated for ABC radio 2JJ/JJJ Sydney by former ABC newsreader, the late James Dibble and repeatedly broadcast, including ABC Radio National (last broadcast in January 2015, 37 years after it was first aired). He writes stage plays, novels, journalism and has a screenplay about Flynn of the Inland, looking for a producer. His novel 'Dry Crossing' was published in March 2015.


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